Exercise Apps Can Benefit Healthcare Workers' Mental Health

Simple home exercises using fitness apps can significantly lower depression symptoms among healthcare professionals and might be a key weapon in the fight against the industry's widespread mental health issues.

Exercise has always been linked with positive results. Now, scientists say simple exercise apps can help with mental health among healthcare professionals who are often bombarded with work and stress.

The brain produces feel-good chemicals when regularly exercising, which boosts mood by enhancing the sense of self-worth, sharpening concentration, and encouraging sound sleep.

How did the research team conduct the study?

Participants were randomly assigned to either a waitlist control group or an exercise group that received free access to a collection of at-home exercise apps called DownDog that included yoga, cardio, and strength training as part of the study, which was carried out by a team from the University of British Columbia and published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Over 12 weeks, they were instructed to try at least 80 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week. As the trial went on, the exercise group reported much fewer depression symptoms than the control group, according to the study's first author, Vincent Gosselin-Boucher.

"The majority of the participants in the study started very high on the scale for depressive symptoms compared to the general population so the changes were actually quite amazing to see," said Gosselin-Boucher.

Participants who exercised for at least 80 minutes a week on average saw the most favorable impacts the most. While the exercise apps monitored the participants' exercises, the researchers also examined burnout, sick days, and depressive symptoms throughout the two weeks before their involvement in the experiment and every two weeks throughout the trial.

Exercise reduced cynicism and emotional weariness, two assessed aspects of burnout. The exercise group reported fewer sick days than the control group.

Although prior studies have shown that exercise helps reduce depression symptoms, researchers found that behavioral strategies like exercise were lacking in the mental health programs provided by healthcare institutions worldwide to address the effects COVID-19 has had on the mental health of their personnel.

Our study provides the first evidence that working out at home using exercise apps, even with limited equipment, can significantly enhance the mental health of health care workers.

- Lead author Eli Puterman

According to a 2020 study that was previously published in the Annual Review of Medicine, resistance and aerobic exercise training show assurance in the management and treatment of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.

Black concludes: "We recognize the incredible stress healthcare workers have endured during the pandemic and amid ongoing staff shortages. This is a really innovative and low-cost way to have a positive impact by putting our money upstream, before people are in crisis, are burnt out and have to call in sick. It's a way to say, 'We want to make it super easy for you to fit exercise into your day so you can stay physically and mentally healthy as you continue your vital work.'"

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